Fish kill kills demand even for safe fish in markets

The recent spate of fish kills in Batangas and Pangasinan has also killed consumer demand even for bangus and tilapia that come from areas where the fish are alive and well.

Fish vendors have had no recourse but to think of creative ways to sell their safe fish supplies, which have been repeatedly ignored by consumers wary that they might be buying "double-dead" fish. Unsold safe bangus have been turned into relleno.

At least three people, including a child, have been reported hospitalized after eating fish believed to have come from the fish kill batches. One was in Quezon City, while two were in Pangasinan.

Two towns in Pangasinan, namely Bolinao and Anda, were among the hardest hit by fish kill incidents this past week, aside from Taal Lake in Batangas, which has seen tons of rotting fish wash ashore and spread a nauseating stench throughout communities.

Pangasinan is among the top suppliers of bangus in the Philippines. Dagupan, a city in Pangasinan, is touted as the "Bangus Capital of the Philippines."

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said at least 70 to 90 metric tons of fish sold in Metro Manila every day come from the province of Pangasinan, while 60 to 70 metric tons come from Batangas.

According to a report by GMA News' "Unang Balita", prices for milk fish have plummeted to as low as 45 pesos per kilo in different public markets in Metro Manila.

Other vendors had to conspicuously display the names of fish they were selling and their respective origins, hoping to dispel fears that their merchandise came from fish kill-affected areas.

Enterprising fish vendors, meanwhile, decided to turn their unsold milkfish produce into stuffed milkfish (rellenong bangus), hoping to entice buyers.

"Eh ganyan nga ginawa namin, ni-relleno na namin, [kaso] hindi nga mabili," remarked one fish vendor in an interview with "News to Go" on Friday.

Mixed with 'botcha'

Public fears were fanned by confirmed reports that double-dead fish, also known as "botcha" in Tagalog, were found in wet markets in Metro Manila as vendors hoped to sell them along with their fresh fish supply.

On Friday, more than 200 kilos of double-dead milk fish were seized by the Quezon City Health Department in Commonwealth Market.

At least 400 kilos of "botchang bangus" were likewise seized by authorities in Balintawak Market on Thursday, traced directly to the fish kills in Pangasinan and Batangas.

In Pangasinan, authorities have tightened security near the towns affected by the fish kill to ensure that no double-dead fish is smuggled into the market.

In Bolinao Public Market, for example, authorities seized a batch of bangus alleged to have come from the fish kill, which was being sold at P15 per kilo.

Authorities have likewise set up checkpoints in the town of Bani, a common gateway point for fish porters coming from Anda and Bolinao, two of the areas affected by fish kills.

Unaffected supply

The BFAR, meanwhile, downplayed the effects of the fish kill on the total fish supply in the country, saying only a small fraction of the supply was affected.

In a statement on Wednesday, BFAR said the losses to total production brought by the fish kill amounted to only 0.015 percent.

BFAR added that the target fish production for the year is 5.36 million metric tons whereas the disaster wiped out only 700 metric tons of the supply.

Total losses from the two fish kill incidents now amounts to P98 million in Batangas, and P37 million in Pangasinan.

In an interview with GMA News Online, BFAR Assistant Director Gil Adora said that in the next two months, the effects of the fish kill will not be felt because there are a lot of fish pond owners who harvested fish in advance and put them in cold storage.

"In the event na kulangin ang supply, i-mo-mobilize natin ang forces natin from Visayas and Mindanao to augment the supply. Hindi tayo magkakaroon ng shortage," Adora said.

"Paanong magiging krisis 'yan, nasa personal perception lang iyan ng mga customers. Naipapaliwanag naman natin na there are distinguishing characteristics of the supply na nanggaling sa fish kill," he added.

Adora said that at the rate it is going, the impact of the fish kill will be less than 1 percent of the total target for bangus production in the affected areas.

"It's very negligible pa. Sa Region 4, kung ikukumpara sa target production of the region, the supply affected by the disaster is only 0.33% for the full year," he stressed.

The BFAR official said that they are not worried about disruptions in the supply chain of milk fish in the country, saying that they will try to recover the losses brought by the fish kills in the next five months.

Meanwhile, Adora said they are working doubly hard to make BFAR operatives visible in various public markets around Metro Manila to identify double-dead fish for sale, and to assure consumers that what they are buying is safe for consumption.

"Ang impact diyan, we are safeguarding 'yung mga binebenta sa palengke, na ine-eliminate natin 'yung mga isda na not fit for consumption," he maintained. - HS, GMA News